Scanning photographs isn’t the most exciting undertaking, and it’s something that many people put off for as long as possible. But, choosing the correct photo scanner can turn what is otherwise a tedious task into an enjoyable and satisfying project.
Whether you’re backing up family photos, working on an archiving project, or you’re a photography buff digitizing images for print, there’s an option out there that’s perfect for you.
Last update on 2021-05-06
How to Buy a Photo Scanner
- Media – Some scanners are only capable of scanning a single format, and so you need to decide what you want to scan. Will it just be photographs, and if so, will they be larger than 8 x 10 inches? Will you solely be scanning film? Maybe you will need to work with both formats? There are plenty of options that do one or the other, and several that can handle both types of media, so this will start to help you narrow down your choices.
- Design – Flatbed is the better option for photo scanning, and is the most common design for this type of scanner. The reason for this is that running a delicate photo through a sheet-fed document scanner is more likely to damage the item, even if you’ve put it in a sleeve first. If you’re only intending to use the scanner for photos that aren’t sentimental or delicate, sheet-fed might be fine: just take care when operating it.
- Speed – If you’re planning on using a scanner for large archiving projects, or you think you’ll use it regularly, it’s worth paying more for a faster model. The fastest scanners on the market right now can handle one photo every second, but you’ll pay a premium for this convenience. Stick to cheaper, slower options if you have plenty of time or not many photographs to scan.
- Software – Hardware is often the same in photo scanners, so it’s the software that tends to differ. Kodak’s Digital ICE software features within many scanners on the market right now, and manufacturers pay different levels of royalties depending on whether they buy the basic or premium option from Kodak. This is what often affects the price of a scanner, so if you’re going to rely on inbuilt software to touch up images it’s worth paying more for the premium option. SilverFast is also a big name in scanning software, so keep an eye out for this. The higher-end offerings provide color calibration, which is a big draw for serious users.
- Resolution – Decide how much detail you need from your images, and how you plan to use the scans. If they’re just for web usage you can cope with lower resolutions, but for print you’ll need more dots-per-inch (dpi) to ensure that your images look crisp and clean. If your needs are just general use such as backing images up or using them for websites, you’ll get plenty of detail from between 300 and 1200dpi. If you intend to enlarge your images or use them as prints, you’ll need to be looking at 3200dpi at the very least.
- Bit depth – This refers to the depth at which a scanner reads an image, and will affect the color accuracy in your scanned image. As above, the bit depth you require depends on how you intend to use the scanner. For general use, 24-bit is plenty but you might want to go for 30-bit if you want high-quality images. If you’re scanning blacks and white images you’ll need a higher bit depth to give you better images, so in this case go for a scanner that has 30-bit color and at least 12-bit gray.
6 Great Photo Scanners
1. Epson Perfection V800 – Best all-rounder
If you’re a serious photographer wanting to scan professional-quality photographs and positive and negative film, this is the model for you.
Replacing Epson’s early V7000, it offers many of the same feature but with improved performance such as an LED light source which eliminates warm up time and therefore increases the scanning speed.
Promising to deliver precise color and detail, the maximum 6,400dpi optical resolution provides excellent professional-quality clarity to your digitalized images, and the 4.0 Dmax rating delivers dynamic range that is extremely impressive.
48-bit depth also ensures that colors are incredibly accurate, so your scanned images perfectly replicate the originals. Epson provides four robust film holders for 35mm slides or film strips, medium format film up to 6 x 20 cm, and 4 x 5 inch film, and you can scan images up to 8 x 10 inches with the handy Film Area Guide.
Setup is simple for such an advanced bit of kit, and the USB connection is good to go in minutes. Three modes give you the exact level of control that you want for your projects: Full Auto is comparable to the point-and-shoot mode on a camera and will do all the calculations for you, Home mode lets you adjust a few options such as brightness and contrast, and Professional mode puts you in charge. With this setting you can control tonal curve adjustments, color balance and much more. And, if your images are damaged or faded, Digital ICE will remove dust and scratches.
The only real downside is that the V800 doesn’t come with any photo editing software, but if you’re paying for this level of quality it’s likely that you’ll have access to external software anyway. It’s also pretty bulky for a scanner and weighs in at over 14lbs. But, if you’re not planning on scanning on the move that won’t be an issue. The V700 is a strong option if you have a slightly smaller budget and can cope with a little less quality, and the V850 Pro comes with color-calibration software if you think it’s worth paying more to have this. But the V800 is truly our top pick for all-round excellence.
2. Plustek OpticFilm 8200i Ai - Best for 35mm film and slides
If your images are all on film or slides rather than as photographs, there’s no point in paying for a scanner that can handle both formats. This is Plustek’s top of the line model for 35mm transparent film and slide scanning, and is one step up from the 8200i SE.
These two models are very similar, in that they both offer an impressive 7,200dpi hardware resolution (which tops our all-rounder winner’s offering of 6,400dpi), and hardware and software-based dust and scratch removal technology.
This is Plustek’s top of the line model for 35mm transparent film and slide scanning, and is one step up from the 8200i SE.
These two models are very similar, in that they both offer an impressive 7,200dpi hardware resolution (which tops our all-rounder winner’s offering of 6,400dpi), and hardware and software-based dust and scratch removal technology. Where the two scanners differ is that the 8200i Ai comes loaded with SilverFast Ai software which provides the option of color calibration, a tool which allows you to digitally reproduce your originals with impressive accuracy. SilverFast is tricky to get the hang of, especially if you’re using this high-end Ai version, but it’s one of the best programs out there for professionals and hardcore amateurs so is worth learning if you’re serious about digitalizing film.
Operation is simple. Simply load the slide or film frame into the side of the scanner in the correct film holder, then choose from QuickScan or IntelliScan. QuickScan is the automated option, and will scan and save your newly digitalized image, whereas IntelliScan will open SilverFast on your computer to allow for image manipulation.
Because this scanner specializes in 35mm film and slides, the machine’s footprint is pretty small. Measuring 4.7 x 4.7 x 10.7 inches, it will take up minimal room on your desk, and the padded case it comes with makes transportation easy.
This is not a scanner cut out for big archiving jobs, and at full resolution you’re looking at around two minutes per scan. You can also only scan a single slide of frame of film at a time, whereas Epson’s V700 can scan up to 12 slides or 24 frames of film at once. But, you’re going to pay a lot extra for the luxury of speed, so if you don’t have a big batch of images to get through or you have plenty of time on your hands, stick with Plustek.
3. Canon CanoScan LiDE220 – Best on a budget
Just as it makes no sense to pay for photographic print scanning if you’re only scanning film, it is also pointless to do the opposite. If you want a cheap option for scanning photographs only, Canon’s CanoScan LiDE220 is hard to beat.
Serving as an upgrade to the LiDE 210, smart features such as dust removal and automatic color restoration for faded photos gives you plenty of bang for relatively few bucks.
Just as it makes no sense to pay for photographic print scanning if you’re only scanning film, it is also pointless to do the opposite.
If you want a cheap option for scanning photographs only, Canon’s CanoScan LiDE220 is hard to beat. Serving as an upgrade to the LiDE 210, smart features such as dust removal and automatic color restoration for faded photos gives you plenty of bang for relatively few bucks.
4,800dpi delivers plenty of sharpness to images, and in addition to photo scanning, the LiDE220 can produce digitalized searchable PDF and editable text formats, which is a brilliant extra for this budget option. AutoScan is the simplest way to operate the CanoScan and you might be happy to use this feature for all your scanning. However, you can also choose the more advanced option, where you can adjust basics including contrast, brightness and resolution.
Although there’s no inbuilt way of scanning directly to the cloud, the simple workaround of installing your preferred cloud app on your computer and setting the scan utility to save files in a directory monitored by it gives you access to a premium feature without paying any extra for it.
Setup is quick and easy via USB, and Canon’s ‘My Image Garden’ serves as a handy photo album, as well as providing a few photo-enhancement commands. Weighing in at just 3.4lbs the CanoScan isn’t bulky by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’re extremely tight on space you can prop this flatbed beauty up at an almost 90 degree angle and still expect brilliant results.
Usability isn’t the best on the CanoScan, and commands are inconsistent from one method of scanning to the next. With buttons on the front of the scanner as well as assorted on-screen options, it can be tricky to work out how to switch from one function to another. There’s also no inbuilt photo editor and the onboard software is limited. But, if you’re looking for professional-level features you’re probably going to choose a more high-end model anyway. The CanoScan is more than adequate for everyday use, and is a complete bargain.
4. Doxie Flip Flatbed – Best for portability
This compact classic is ideal for scanning anywhere, any time. The cordless system means you’re not tied to power sources, and the flatbed detachable lid design is great for taking care of photographs when you’re out and about.
Weighing just 1.26lbs and measuring in at about the same size as a book, the Doxie is primed for portability. For a budget option, Doxie is fairly impressive when it comes to speed and quality.
Scans are up to 600dpi which is more than adequate for web use, and a 300dpi scan takes just 7 seconds.
If you’re not connected to a computer, you can scan photographs and documents to a memory card to be backed up later, and it’s also possible to create photo albums which, again, ties in nicely with Doxie’s focus on the home-use market. The built-in color display is also handy on the go, and you can preview images which, again, makes it easy to use without a computer.
This is a great cheap option and is geared towards the home use market, but it’s also perfectly adequate for work and educational purposes. The free SD card and battery might also be a draw for anyone looking for a good bargain.
Without wishing to state the obvious, the Doxie isn’t likely to be at the top of any professional photographers’ wish lists, but it’s not trying to be anything more than easy, efficient and convenient. But, although Doxie claims to be able to handle 2,500 scans per full battery, but reality quite often isn't that great, which, for a portable scanner, feels like a bit of an oversight.
5. Epson Perfection V19 – Best for ease of use
The V19 is very similar to the CanoScan model we selected as our best on a budget option, but Epson’s offering still deserves a place in our top five for its sheer usability.
Another flatbed model, the V19 packs a decent punch with 4,800dpi, and provides the benefit of being able to crop into an image, enlarge it, and still enjoy crisp details.
This puts the V19 above other similar options in its price range, including Canon’s LiDE120. 48-bits color and 16-bits greyscale provide great accuracy for both color and black and white images, and at just 30 seconds for a 600dpi scan, you could get through a fair few photos if you don’t mind them not being professional quality.
Setup is fast via a USB cable, and the inbuilt kickstand allows you to position the scanner at an angle so it take up less room on your desk. The simplicity of this scanner means that there are pretty much no applications onboard, so you’ll need to rely on external apps if you want to edit or organize your images. But, this straight-forward design will be a major draw for anybody wanting an easy to operate option. As a bonus feature, there’s also a PDF utility which allows you to create searchable PDFs.
There are two options available within the software: a copy function which facilitates scanning from almost all Windows programs that have a scan command, and Easy Photo Scan, which provides some simple photo editing tools and some flexibility on where to send your scans. Both options are straightforward to operate and you’ll spend no time at all learning how to use the features.
It’s worth noting that if you want easy automated scanning but for 35mm film and slides rather than photographic prints, the V19’s distant cousin, the V550 is a brilliant option.
The V19 doesn’t have the option of being able to scan a document to editable text, which Conon’s 220 and 210 models can, but it beats the former on price, the latter on resolution, and both on sheer usability. So, if you don’t need to scan documents, Epson’s offering is a very good option.
Wrapping it up
So, for true powerhouse performance, it’s got to be the Epson V800. This multitasking marvel can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, and will produce high quality digital reproductions every time.
It might be a little pricey for a once-in-a-while user, but if you need professional quality and decent speeds this Epson will serve you well for years to come. Film buffs will appreciate the dedication that Plustek shows to 35mm film, and will enjoy the high quality reproductions that it offers.
As mentioned, there a faster scanners on the market, but the 8200i Ai takes the film crown for its impressive resolution and onboard software.
The Canon just beats Epson’s V19 on image reproduction quality, despite the identical resolution, but is trickier to get the hang of. Which one you choose is completely down to whether you place more value on quality or ease of use; there’s very little else between them really.
For a complete bargain and ultimate simplicity, the Doxie Flip Flatbed cannot be beaten. If you’re looking for a model you can take on the road with you, and you don’t need any inbuilt image enhancement software, this is the scanner for you.